If you’re facing sex discrimination at work, it can be difficult knowing exactly what to do. Who do you report it to? What if they start treating you differently because you reported it? Read below to get further advice regarding sexual discrimination in the workplace.
What is sex discrimination?
This is when you are discriminated against because of your gender. This applies to men as well as women in the workplace, given that some employers view paternity less favourably than maternity leave.
According to the Equality Act 2010, sex discrimination in the context of employment is illegal and can be categorised as follows:
- Direct discrimination – this is when an individual is treated differently or unfairly because of their sex. For instance, stating in a job advert or promotion opportunity that the role is better suited to a certain sex would amount to discrimination. Treating someone less favourably can occur in three main ways:
- Either as a result of their own sex (ordinary direct discrimination)
- Their perceived sex (direct discrimination by perception)
- Their association with someone of a particular sex (direct discrimination by association)
- Indirect discrimination – this is where a provision, procedure or practice is applied to all employees, but it puts a certain gender at a disadvantage. To succeed in bringing an indirect discrimination claim an employee has to show how they have personally been disadvantaged, as well has how the discrimination has or would have disadvantaged other employees of the same gender.
- Harassment – harassment in the workplace occurs when an individual is a victim of humiliation, degradation, intimidation or hostility. It normally falls within one of the following categories:
- “unwanted conduct” related to a person’s sex causing a distressing, humiliating or offensive environment for them
- unwanted conduct of a sexual nature
- less favourable treatment of an employee because they have been sexually harassed or have submitted to the sexual harassment
- Victimisation – this is where a person has previously made a complaint, or raised a grievance about being discriminated against in the workplace, and has been treated unfairly as a result.
Sex discrimination examples
An employer cannot discriminate against you because of your sex. As such, all types of occupational roles are protected from sexual discrimination, including agency workers, full-time workers and trainees.
This protection covers every eventuality, which could occur within one of the following categories:
- Promotions and salary increases/pay rises
- Redundancy or dismissal
- Training and development opportunities
- Benefits and other working arrangements
- Contractual terms
In very limited circumstances, there are some jobs that require the individual to be of a certain sex. This is known as an “occupational requirement”.
An example of this is where members of one sex will be in a state of undress, and might reasonably object to the presence of a member of the opposite sex, such as a bra-fitting service.
Note: there are special regulations in place to protect employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave.
Below are some examples of sex discrimination at work:
- A member of HR asks a female employee when she is thinking of having children, or when she plans on having her next child. This is sexual discrimination because this question is unlikely to be directed to a male employee. Also, this question is irrelevant and makes it seem as though getting pregnant would affect the employee’s role in some way.
- A male employee puts up a sexist calendar in the office. Other male employees laugh and joke about it, but a female employee feels victimised by this derogatory situation. When she raises it with her employer, people in the office start to ignore her and treat her unfairly.
- An employer agrees flexible working arrangements for three female employees straight away, but when a male employee puts in a flexible working request, the employer refuses it, or fails to agree to it in a timely manner. This would be sex discrimination because the employer evidently prioritised the female employees’ requests over the male employee’s request.
Sex discrimination and caring responsibilities
It’s also unlawful to discriminate against somebody who has caring responsibilities for children or for elderly and disabled adults. For example, if you’re a female employee and you ask your employer for later start times, so you can take your children to school, it’s illegal for them to discriminate against you in refusing the request.
This would come under flexible working requests, which include:
- Later start times/early finishes
- Taking time out to attend hospital appointments
- Part-time or reduced working hours
If the child or adult you are caring for is disabled and your employer discriminates against you for requesting flexible working, this could be classified as disability discrimination.
What to do if you’re facing sex discrimination
If you have been the victim of sex discrimination at work or during the recruitment process, then you need to act quickly. Current law provides that an individual only has three months, less one day, from the date of the last discriminatory act to start a complaint at an employment tribunal.
It is important to note that complaints can be brought against your employer and the individual perpetrators of the discriminative act or harassment.
In order to bring a tribunal claim, we recommend you contact our employment solicitors in the first instance. As part of a due process, any individual needs to submit details of the claim to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), so that they can establish whether your employer will agree to ‘early conciliation’. Depending on your circumstances, we may be able to help you with this.
This process can take a few weeks to complete, and the time ACAS spends on the ‘early conciliation’ will be added to the time limit. In certain situations our team can help guide you through this conciliation process or represent you in a tribunal claim, should the conciliation process fail.
If you have been unfairly treated on the grounds of your sex, our employment team may be able to support you with bringing a sexual discrimination claim. Visit our contact us page or call us free on 0808 164 0808.